. What your airline ticket really costs - a breakdown of taxes and fees : Budget Travel Adventures

What your airline ticket really costs – a breakdown of taxes and fees

airline ticket costs travel taxes and feesWhen booking travel on airlines, most websites include the total cost of the flight in your total.  While airlines now include taxes and fees with in the price of an airline ticket, how many people actually pay attention to these?

Is the difference in airfare for a domestic versus international flight really that much more expensive because you have a longer flight and use more fuel?

Do you really understand all the taxes and fees that make up the prices of your airline ticket?

An overview of airline taxes and fees

On every flight in the US, there are airline fees and taxes every passenger must pay.

There are a number of travel tips to help you find the cheapest flight.  However, going behind the numbers may help you understand how airlines operate while saving you money.

Knowing what you are paying for when you buy your ticket can help you find the best deals and understand what you are paying for.  For many people, the flight itself may not make up as much of the total cost as you think.

While taxes and some fees are now included in the total price of the airfare, knowing what you are paying when you fly can help you find the most affordable and direct route to your destination.

On a November flight from Sacramento to South Carolina, I paid $396.50 for my round trip flight.  For holiday time, it’s not a bad deal.

However, how much was my actual airfare and how much went to taxes?

17 percent, $69.06, of the total price went to taxes and fees while the actual price of the fare was $327.44.  What are these taxes and fees that we pay?  How much does it vary for airports, domestic, and international flights?

The fees and taxes that are paid on flights and how much they can actually be might surprise some people.  Airports can add taxes for projects they are working on.

Airport security, federal segment fees, international taxes, a number of domestic taxes, and various foreign taxes (including country taxes on passengers to fight AIDS and malaria) are added into the cost for various domestic and international flights.

The amount of these taxes can vary based on your airport, domestic or international flights, and the country are you flying to or leaving from.  And many of these fees can add up quickly and make up a huge portion of the total fare.

An airline ticket example – Sacramento to London, Sacramento to Paris

An April 14 flight from Sacramento to London on Delta gives us a number of options in terms of prices.  The lowest priced flight takes us from Sacramento with a stop in Minneapolis and Amsterdam for a total of $897.50.  The taxes and fees for this flight are $161.30.  Another flight which has one stop in Minneapolis costs $1055.50 but only $140.30 in taxes and fees

On the return flight, you can get a ticket back to Sacramento on April 21 with a stop in Minneapolis for the same price of $897.50 with taxes and fees making up $161.30.  A flight through Detroit and Atlanta costs $904.50 with taxes and fees making up $168.30.  Another flight through Amsterdam and Minneapolis costs $918.50 with $182.30 going toward taxes and fees.  For the exact same $1055.50 flight on Delta, you can fly on KLM on the same airline and flights for $874 ($170 in taxes and fees).

Contrast these prices with a flight from Sacramento to Paris.  While tickets to Paris are more expensive ($1087 and up) on Delta, the taxes and fees range from $100 to $120 with a fare price of $967.  The airport options for those tickets are Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, and Amsterdam yet taxes are much less than some of those same airports to London.

Another search for tickets from Sacramento to Paris results in a low ticket price of $1065 on Continental.  However, the fare for that flight is $655 and the taxes and fees are $410.  These two flights are only $20 difference in total price but one has taxes and fees of $120 while the other has taxes and fees of $410.

Understanding airline taxes and fees saves you money

So what are these taxes and fees?  For domestic flights, there are 4 standard taxes on airfare – a passenger ticket tax (7.5 percent of the base fare); a flight segment tax ($3.80 a flight); a passenger facility charge (up to $4.50 a segment, max of $18); and a federal security fee, also called the Sept. 11 fee ($2.50 a segment).  However, there are many other airline taxes as well.

While most people are aware that non stop flights are cheaper for airfare, it’s also cheaper for taxes and fees.  For each stop that a flight makes, you may be charged a passenger facility charge (maximum of $18) and a security fee for each segment (maximum $5 one way, $10 round trip).  Also, a federal excise tax of 7.5% is applied to the airline base fare and $8.10 each way is applied for travel to Hawaii or Alaska.  Immigration and Naturalization fee is $7.

For other charges, airlines differ on what they will charge you.  On Delta, International surcharges for carriers may be as much as $260 while international transportation taxes and fees may be as much as $299.  A US International Transportation Tax is $16.10 for certain flights.

On United, there is a security surcharge of $55 for each transatlantic flight while arrival ($14.10) and departure ($14.80) taxes also apply. United charges $21.36 for departures out of Belgium and $2.48 out of Luxembourg.

For Continental (now United Airlines), travel from Canada or Mexico is subject to US inspection fees of $12.  International fees may be as much as $160.

Various airlines and booking agencies will also charge fees for paper tickets and fees for cancellations or changes (if permitted).  Sites like Orbitz have charged a service fee although many sites have done away with these.

For changes to existing reservations, airlines charge various amounts for this (check with your airline to understand what fees they may charge for baggage and changes to your flight).  And many airports will also charge fees in association with airport taxes to pay for projects and city specific taxes.

To get a list of taxes and fees that airlines charge, check out their websites – Delta, United/Continental, US Airways, JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America, Alaska Air, Hawaiian Airlines.

(American Airlines didn’t have a section on taxes and fees.  Note that all airlines are now required to include taxes and mandatory fees as part of the total price.  Most of the information on taxes and fees are disclosed when you purchase your ticket.  Please note that other optional fees may still apply.)

Finding the best deal on airfares

With summer airfares on the rise and travel demand expected to increase this year, knowing what to pay and when to buy a ticket will save you a lot of money.

While many people know what criteria to use to find the lowest airfare (what days to fly, what times, non stop flights, etc), not everyone knows how much taxes and fees can affect the cost of a flight.  While some of these extra costs can’t be avoided, it’s good to know what some of these are and see if there are some ways to avoid some of these.

Airline passengers already feel they are overtaxed.   Whatever you are looking for in your next flight, understand the total costs of your ticket and what you are paying for.  Looking closely at taxes and fees may be a way to save a little more the next time you fly.

Travel Memorabilia (Flickr)

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Filed Under: flights, airlines, airportsTravel Tips


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  1. Thanks for sharing this (and giving such a detailed explanation!)

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